Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sailor talk vs. Pilot talk

I am finding the new language a bit daunting as well…mainsheet, boomvang, (love the word, still not sure what it means) outhaul, downhaul, cunningham, telltails, genoa, spinnaker, clew, leech, luff, head, (not the one you pee in) tack, (this word apparently means several different things), jib, heel, in irons, close hauled – which is not the same as a close reach – which is not the same as a beam reach or broad reach, and none of which actually have anything to do with reaching for something. And apparently (at least it seems this way from the videos we have watched) all sailor words are pronounced with a slight New England accent.

Why can’t they use normal words like pitot, VeeRef, nacelle, buckets, (not the boat kind used to haul water) leading edge, (luff to a sailor) trailing edge, (leech to a sailor) trailing link, yoke, boards, slats, EFIS and stall? (All spoken with a slight West Virginia drawl.) Then it would make sense. For example, when a pilot “stalls,” the wing on the airplane stops going forward and starts falling down. What else would it mean? But when a sail “stalls” the sailor is “in irons,” the boat stops going forward and starts going backward. "In irons?" What does irons have to do with anything; hand-cuff kind of irons, get the wrinkles out of your shirt kind, change the tire on your motorcycle kind? Irons? A pilot would use a completely different word for "in irons."

Even when I learn the words I am a bit self-conscious using them. I am a pilot and using pilot words is just natural. But I am not a sailor. In fact, except for one story from my childhood about me going for a sailboat ride, (an event I don’t actually remember) I have never set foot on a sailboat. Surely I have never actually tried to steer a sailboat. And I'm sure "steer" is the wrong word. I know the driver stands at the "helm" but I don't think you can "helm" a boat. "Crash" is a word everyone uses, though a sailor can also "run aground," "pitch-pole"
suffer a "knock-down" capsize and sink (not the thing you wash your hands in.)

So when I use sailor words I feel like a poser; like some kid hanging around the airport boasting about his “ILS to Minimums” when you know for a fact he has never even seen the inside of a cloud. I suppose this will change with time. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get a laugh out of the person who glances at the top corner of the mainsail with a puzzled look on their face when I say, “I’m going to the head.” (That is the one you pee in.)

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